There are many reasons why people keep news of a cancer diagnosis secret. Some are personal (it’s my body, and what goes on inside it is my business). Some are professional (they may not believe I can deal with cancer and do my job). And some are self-sacrificing (we don’t want others to bear the emotional weight of knowing). Sometimes, people just don’t talk about their cancer because they haven’t made sense of it themselves.
It’s our doctors and/or nurses job, to voluntarily ask us, the patient, how we plan explain our cancer to others, to make sure they understand. Keeping such a diagnosis hushed, a secret from those who love and care for us, is an unfair burden we shouldn’t allow cancer to dictate, too.
Patients who keep their diagnosis to themselves may also find it challenging when they finally do spill their cancer beans — their friends and family may not understand why they weren’t told. It’s a good question, especially when so many people are, as Young puts it, “turning their cancer into a reality show or story with videos and blogs (that would be what I have done).”
Secret cancer, Facebook cancer, compartmentalized cancer – experts say it’s ultimately up to the patient as to how they want to handle their disease, which is how it should be…
But your spouse is for better or worse, in sickness and health, till death do you part.
This being said, what sparked this blog? Yesterday, at the “More than Pink” walk, I talked with a group of ladies about talking to their spouse about their cancer. It brought to mind about my husband telling me about his cancer.
My husband has non-Hodgkin lymphoma. He knew at about the ninth year (a year before we got married) we had lived together. And he didn’t tell me until we had been married for almost 3 years. And the only reason he told me was his doctor decided his white cell count had gotten to high and it was time for him to start chemo.
I was devastated. Devastated because he hadn’t told me when he found out about his diagnosis. Devastated that I had been clueless about him even seeing an oncologist for almost four years. Devastation quickly turned to anger. I was angry because he didn’t have faith in my commitment to him. He had no faith in us. He had lied to me through omission. Still it hurts me knowing that for over a four year timeline he didn’t entrust me with this information.
Although your spouse has cancer, the illness is really happening to both of you. Your life is being disrupted in many of the same ways. You are sharing many of the same emotions and concerns. And as a patient myself, I understand the need to protect your spouse from the pain and stress that comes with a diagnosis.
You are both challenged to find constructive ways of dealing with the disruptions and threats posed by cancer and with the side effects of medical treatments. It can be tremendously reassuring and comforting to your loved one to know that the two of you are facing the illness together and that your support and involvement will be steadfast and unwavering regardless of what happens. But you won’t know this if you don’t tell them about your diagnosis
Do not assume you know what your spouse is feeling when it comes to the your cancer diagnosis, or that you know what he or she needs from you. You might feel your spouse is scared, but he or she is actually sad or maybe feeling guilty about the after effects of the cancer for you and your marriage. Strength and resilience might be characteristics you feel your spouse has, when in all actuality he or she is vulnerable and pain for you, but may not want to tell or acknowledge it. He or she just wants you to say “I’m with you in what you are feeling, and we’ll face this together no matter what happens.”
Most spouses feel like they are suppose to have a positive mental attitude through out your treatments, and too often this pressure prevents them from expressing their true feelings. Your partner and yourself, both, might hold back in sharing fears because he or she doesn’t want to burden you, because he or she thinks that negative emotions might jeopardize healing. Actually, it is the suppression of fears, sorrow, or anger that could jeopardize your partner’s psychological response. Your loved one probably has good reasons to be worried and upset, as well as to feel hopeful and optimistic. You should try to support and validate both sets of emotions (not only the positive ones). But if you hide or withhold information you will never know, along with endangering your relationship.
Your cancer and treatments have affected your sexual interest, sexual functioning, or feelings of attractiveness. Some common examples are the loss of libido caused by chemotherapy and hormonal therapy, the impotence caused by prostate cancer treatments, and the body image effects of mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Even without such specific problems, the depression that cancer can cause can reduce libido and sexual functioning. The bodily or mood changes in you can also cause your spouse to lose interest.
The key to dealing with these issues is open communication. Because your partner might be reluctant to broach these topics, you, as their spouse should take the lead and acknowledge these issues and conveying your desire to face them together. You might also go out of your way to reassure your spouse of your love and devotion and that your feelings are not motivated just by physical attractiveness or sexual performance, that your main priority is his or her survival, and that you continue to desire an intimate physical relationship.
Few appreciate the pain, fear, and confusion endured by the spouse or partner. Unfortunately, while attention and treatments are being given to the person with cancer, the spouse is sometimes shunted aside. Little or no time is spent giving the spouse of the cancer patient tips about how to proceed, leaving many to tell me they felt they had to “reinvent the wheel.” Many cancer patients say that when they try to tell their partners about some of their fears, their response is, “Oh, don’t worry about it. I’m sure everything will be okay.” When this reply is repeated several times, the person with cancer may refrain from communicating his or her fears about the cancer diagnosis and the couple may grow apart.
Instead of remaining quiet and suffering, the person with cancer might find it useful to tell the spouse how you feel, “I’ve noticed that when I tell you I’m scared, you tell me not to worry. I’m thinking you say that because you care for me and you don’t want me to worry. But when I tell you how worried I am, what would help me most is a hug and to hear you say how much you love me and that you worry sometimes, too.” Don’t downplay fears from either side, reassure your your spouse of your love, hopes and dreams for the two of you.
Illness, incapacity, and the threat of death are difficult subjects that you need to discuss with you spouse and family. Fears and frustrations should be talked about as they arise, rather than being left to fester until they become too frightening to mention, or until a habit of withholding evolves into inevitable isolation. Confronting each other’s fears, therefore, becomes a means of keeping those fears under control.
Withholding information about a cancer diagnosis can cause distrust in all aspects of you marriage. The mind is a tricky thing. And one moment of broken trust puts questions of your love for your spouse. Your spouse will want to know what else you could be hiding from them. Open up to your spouse s soon as you know their might be something wrong.